Brazilian helmers on the horizon

10 filmmakers currently making waves

A new crop of Brazilian directors is making its presence known as the country reasserts its primacy, along with Mexico, as one of Latin America’s premiere talent pools for the film biz.

The following 10 filmmakers have managed to make waves with their latest efforts.

With a strong international background, it seemed natural for Vicente Amorim to pursue a career abroad. Son of a diplomat (Brazil’s foreign relations minister Celso Amorim), he spent his youth inAustria, England, the U.S., Holland and France, and is fluent in five languages.

His first foreign pic is Viggo Mortensen starrer “Good,” a U.K. production based on a C.P. Taylor play and currently in post.

“It was not a life goal to work abroad, but I came across a compelling script,” he explains. “The plot is set in Nazi Germany but directly parallels today’s reality.”

Amorim started in as an assistant director to Brazilian helmers Leon Hirszman and Caca Diegues. He then directed shorts, commercials and the doc “Too Much Brazil” (2000) and joined local production company Mixer in 2003 as a partner. His theatrical breakthrough was “The Middle of the World” (2003), which sold to more than 30 countries.

His and Mixer’s next project, “Dirty Hearts,” is scheduled to shoot in March in Brazil.

Given that Cedric Klapisch’s “Chacun cherche son chat” and Agnes Jaoui’s “Le Gout des autres” were inspirations for Lais Bodanzky’s critically acclaimed “Chega de Saudade,” released in Brazil in March, it’s only natural that the helmer’s second feature is a Brazil/France co-production.

“The plot is set in a ballroom,” says Bodanzky, who is married to screenwriter Luiz Bolognesi. “It is a film about remarkable characters, and it is based on true stories.”

Daughter of helmer Jorge Bodanzky, she grew up visiting sets. But she decided to be a director when interning with legit helmer Antunes Filho in 1989.

In 1997, she and Bolognesi opened Buriti to raise coin for her first feature, “Brainstorm” (2001), a Brazil/Italy co-production that received 47 prizes.

Besides producing two daughters, she and Bolognesi have found time to organize the Cine Tele Brasil project, which consists of screenings of local pics in hamlets. Since 1996, more than 300,000 people have attended.

Following his promising feature debut, “Nina” (2004), Heitor Dhalia sought funding for “Drained.” But nobody seemed interested in the story of a perverse pawnshop proprietor obsessed with a toilet and a waitress’ rear end.

“A stinking drain, a butt … it was not appealing,” says Dhalia, who worked as an advertising writer before becoming a filmmaker.

Dhalia then did what very few filmmakers do in Brazil, where the bulk of the pic production is supported through incentives. He funded the $170,000 production of “Drained” with his savings and those of friends.

Far from being deemed “unappealing,” “Drained” was acclaimed by critics upon its release in 2006 and proved a minor B.O. phenomenon on the art circuit. Furthermore, helmer Fernando Meirelles’ O2 Filmes chose Dhalia to direct the first pic of the company’s deal with Universal Pictures. Lensed in March-May in Brazil, “Adrift” stars Vincent Cassel and Camilla Belle. Dhalia wrote the family-drama script.

Dhalia also is writing his next picture, “Haiti,” a war saga centered on the Brazil-led UN military occupation of the Caribbean country.

Marcelo Gomes is nothing if not persistent. He spent seven years working on and raising coin for his feature debut “Movies, Aspirin and Vultures.” When he finally finished it, the effort paid off with a 2005 premiere in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard and feature prizes at Sao Paulo Film Fest 2005 and Guadalajara Film Fest 2006.

Gomes studied film in the U.K. at the U. of Bristol. Upon his return in 1993 to Recife, his northeastern Brazilian hometown that is a dynamic filmmaking enclave, he founded production company Parabolica Brasil. He then directed two shorts and several TV docs and co-wrote such scripts as “Madame Sata” for helmer Karim Ainouz.

Gomes has written the script of his new pic, “Once Upon a Time Veronica,” to be made by the same producers of “Vultures,” Dezenove Sore e Imagens and Rec Produtores Associados.

“Will I spend another seven years making ‘Once Upon a Time Veronica’?” he jokes.

While raising funds for “Veronica,” Gomes is editing a feature doc he co-directed in 2000 and never finished, while writing a feature script based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Man of the Crowd.”

Food and cinema have paired well in Europe (“Mostly Martha”), Asia (Eat, Drink, Man, Woman”) and Latin America (“Like Water for Chocolate”), but unlike previous efforts, Marcos Jorge’s concoction, “Estomago: A Gastronomic Story,” is less about the artisanal and more about the everyday.

“‘Estomago’ speaks the universal language of food,” he says. “The film is not about fancy food, but about food made in pubs and in prison.”

Appropriately, Jorge — with his Zencrane production partner (and wife) Claudia da Natividade — sought coin from one of the countries known for its cuisine, Italy, in the form of production unit Indiana. The film won four prizes in Rio Fest 2007, South America’s leading fest, had its world rights sold to French outfit Elle Driver and will open in 11 countries.

Jorge lived in Italy for 11 years studying film and working as an assistant director, editor and director. After moving back to his Brazilian hometown Curitiba in 2001, he made two shorts, a doc and “Corpos Celestes,” a feature he co-directed with Fernando Severo, which is in post.

Jorge is also working on a feature, “Two Kidnappings,” scheduled to shoot in 2009. “This is a special time to make films in Brazil,” he says. “I’m glad I’m back here.”

By making “The Two Deaths of Quincas Wateryell,” scheduled to shoot this October-December, Sergio Machado is paying tribute to his early career mentor, Brazil’s celebrated 20th-century novelist Jorge Amado, who died in 2001. In 1993, the “Wateryell” author saw a short of then-college student Machado. They both lived in Salvador, capital of Bahia State.

“Jorge contacted an uprising director named Walter Salles, who also liked my short,” Machado recalls. “That’s how I became assistant director of ‘Central Station.'”

The success of “Central Station” boosted Machado’s career. He was the assistant director of “Midnight” (1998), by Salles and Daniela Thomas, and Salles’ “Behind the Sun” (2001) before taking the lead directing reins on doc “At the Edge of the Earth” (2001).

“I was about to start working on ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ when Walter said to me, ‘You are ready to direct your first fiction feature,’ ” Machado recounts.

Premiered in Un Certain Regard 2005, “Lower City” was Machado’s breakthrough. It garnered numerous prizes including Rio Fest’s feature and actress kudos.

In April, Machado finished co-directing with Karim Ainouz the 13-episode HBO series “Alice.”

Sandra Kogut has spent most of her career divided between work as a filmmaker and as an artist who often uses experimental videos in her installations. But her first feature, “Mutum,” which premiered in last year’s Directors Fortnight at Cannes, has gone far in establishing her rep as a director.

A Brazil-France co-production, “Mutum” re-creates the poetic atmosphere of Joao Guimaraes Rosa’s novels, garnering several prizes, including Rio Fest’s 2007 feature kudo.

“I read Rosa’s ‘Mutum’ about 10 years ago and fell in love with it,” she says.

Since her college days, Kogut has traded her time between Paris, where she directed videos and shorts, and Rio, directing TV Globo’s irreverent doc series “Brasil Legal.” In 2001, she directed her first longform doc, “A Hungarian Passport.”

Kogut now lives in Princeton, N.J., where she pursued a third career path as film professor. She also has taught film at UC San Dieg

Maria Augusta Ramos’ reputation for stirring things up was established in 2004, when her documentary “Justice” was released to widespread acclaim on the fest circuit, receiving seven international prizes including Nyon’s Visions du Reel’s top kudo. A Brazil-Netherlands co-production, “Justice” depicts the chaotic Brazilian judicial system with unprecedented realism, causing reverberations throughout the halls of government.

Most recently, Ramos took up an even more challenging task: portraying the judicial system for juvenile offenders in “Juizo” (Behave), which was released in March. As Brazilian law prohibits the unfavorable media exposure of minors, Ramos had to resort to using amateur actors.

“I filmed the real hearings,” says Ramos. “Then I returned with the actors to the same (empty) court room and filmed them. I replaced the defenders with other youngsters in similar circumstances of social marginalization.”

Ramos, who since 1990 has been living in Amsterdam, where she studied film, will make her first fiction feature, “48 Hours,” a Dutch pic produced by Pieter van Huystee Film. Meanwhile, she is raising coin for her next Brazilian doc.

Breaking a 15-year B.O. record with one’s debut pic is not a bad career start. After the astonishing success of 2005’s “Two Sons of Francisco,” which grossed $15.7 million, Breno Silveira is attempting to avoid the sophomore slump with “Once Upon a Time in Rio,” about a young Rio couple struggling to overcome their huge social gap.

As a teen, Silveira worked in his father’s photo lab and got to know then-young cinematographers such as Walter Carvalho and Affonso Beato. He attended the Louis Lumiere cinematography school in Paris in the mid-1980s. Back in Brazil, he was a d.p. on docs, commercials and musicvids. He eventually joined production company Conspiracao as a partner and was the lenser of several company features, such as “Me You Them” and “The Man of the Year.”

“I caught myself giving opinions on the set,” recalls Silveira, who is currently co-writing three feature scripts. “One director once said: ‘Save this one for your own film.’ It was time to move on.”

In the late 1980s, local prestigious business school FGV-SP lost a promising economist. “A friend worked in TV, and I used to visit the sets,” Chico Teixeira says. “I decided to ditch the suit and tie.”

His career path would lead him from TV researcher and producer to director of docs in both longform and shortform. His international breakthrough came with the acclaimed “Alice’s House,” a sensitive family drama released in November.

He co-wrote the script and, along with production company Superfilmes, raised coin through incentives available to first-time feature filmmakers. For a documentarian, directing actors proved a challenge, and Teixeira acknowledges the work of acting coach Fatima Toledo.

“Alice’s House” has been sold to 17 countries and received 23 prizes, including feature in Havana, special jury in Chicago and actress in both Rio and Sao Paulo fests for Carla Ribas.

Teixeira is now writing his next drama.

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